Lions

Lions by Bonnie Nadzam Read Free Book Online

Book: Lions by Bonnie Nadzam Read Free Book Online
Authors: Bonnie Nadzam
every sandwich, and she designed the most incongruous combinations for each: grape jelly on sliced ham; peanut butter, pickle chips, and bologna; coleslaw, cream cheese, and cucumber on grilled hamburger buns. Genius born of necessity, she said, since the Sysco truck came only once every four weeks—that was with even less frequency than the beer trucks brought Coors and High Life to Boyd’s bar.
    On this particular afternoon, Boyd sat on a swivel stool with a cold one he’d brought in from across the street, the ash-colored bruise dark on his face. The buttons on his shirt were buttoned wrong. May was behind the counter prepping for dinner, peppering chicken thighs laid out on two giant cookie sheets. Leigh was covering the tail end of the lunch shift and still had one woman finishing her sandwich. With every work shift, she had the increasing sense of inhabiting a reality in which she didn’t seem to fit; the very edges of the counter and tables, the laminate floor, the door swinging open and closed, even the weight of her own face—it all seemed to punctuate a sense that the world was not what it seemed, not what she was relying on it to be. It was less a feeling to investigate than one to dispense with. It was a symptom of being in Lions. So as she wiped down the empty tables, waiting on the last woman, she counted and recounted her tips and added them to the growing tally she was keeping in her head, alongside the number of days until she left. There was something reassuring in the counting, itself. And when she had her totals: $788, sixty-three days, she began to amass a mental list of all the things she would get in college, where at last she’d be in the world. Sundresses. Silver jewelry. A turquoise ring. A new bedspread on a big new comfortable bed. New makeup. Fall sweaters. Boots. A real haircut.
    Outside on the street, Marybeth Sharpe sat on the sidewalk in a rocking chair beside the front door of her junk store, the only such store in a string of them that was still open for business. John used to give Leigh and Gordon a dollar apiece to go inside and pick something out: a broken green dash lamp; a woman’s leather boot stitched with yellowed seed pearls. A loop of steel attached to an empty husk felted with something like mold—a rabbit’s foot, they determined, carried close inside someone’s pocket for the most scarce and ardently sought-after resource in the county: luck. Even now, since there’d been a big snow in April, a few misty-eyed old-timers had begun to talk hopefully again of shifting rain belts. By such lights, you might still find a remote, wild, unexplored land somewhere in America, and a race of lost men living there; you might still find a city of gold, or a mountain of salt.
    There was nothing remarkable about this last woman Leigh was waiting on in the diner. She must have seen the hand-painted sign for the Lucy Graves and come in off the highway, as everyone did, a constant if not thick stream of traffic from the westbound highway that kept Lions alive. She drove a silver Honda Civic, and wore white tennis shoes, blue jeans, a red T-shirt. Leigh seated her in a booth by the window. The woman ordered the lunch special, tuna melt on rye, and black coffee. She ate silently and efficiently, and set her white paper napkin folded beside her clean plate.
    â€œHave just a minute?” she asked, when Leigh set the check facedown on the gold-flecked Formica table.
    â€œWhat can I get you?”
    â€œYou’re as wide open as a telephone booth.”
    â€œI’m sorry?”
    â€œAnyone could step right in and call up whatever they wanted.”
    The hair went up on the back of Leigh’s neck.
    â€œYou know what I’m talking about,” the woman said.
    Leigh glanced back at Boyd and her mother. They were bent over the counter looking at something in the Burnsville newspaper.
    â€œLook,” the woman said. “You can close the

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